LUCY MAUD MONTGOMERY AND THE LEASKDALE MANSE
www.nhsao.ca National Historic Sites Alliance of Ontario
When in 1911, newly-wed Lucy Maud Montgomery left Prince Edward Island for Leaskdale, Ontario, where her pastor husband was to take up his first ministerial post, she left something precious behind.
That “something” was Daffy, her beloved cat.
Lucy Maud Montgomery entered this world the same day her mother died. Her father, unprepared to raise a daughter alone, ran away. The babe was raised by a flinty-stiff Highlands-born grandmother, in a home where love seldom came calling. Growing up lonely, high-strung and introspective, Maud’s temperament invited heart-ache.
In such a joyless world, she looked outside the family for affection. Girl and boyfriends were fleeting but cats were there when you needed them. She was especially partial to grey ones. “The best cats are always grey,” Maud maintained. And the best of the best was Daffy.
Young adulthood saw Maud supporting herself as a teacher by day, writing short stories and poetry late into the night. She was also working on a novel, the story of a hot-tempered, red-headed orphan named Anne Shirley. As always Daffy sat beside her as she wrote. He purred and closed his eyes.
In 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables was published. It vaulted her into the public eye.
In 1911, she married Pastor Ewan Macdonald and set out with him as he took up God’s calling in far-off Ontario. While it broke Maud’s heart, her beloved Daffy remained behind to be cared for by strangers.
The village of Leaskdale, northeast of the booming Toronto was not much to look at. Blink twice and you’ve passed it by. The Manse into which she and Ewan set up house was a disappointment too.
“It is not an ideal house by any means, but it will do,” she admitted in her journal. “My greatest disappointment in connection with it is that it has no bathroom or toilet. I had hoped that I might have a home with these at least. But what is to be will be! It is Allah! We must submit!”
Playing her requisite role as Pastor’s wife by day, Maud continued to write more of Anne’s adventure late into the night. But the feeling wasn’t right. Always her thoughts turned to dear Daffy back “home.” And she wept.
The delightful children’s book Lucy Maud and the Cavendish Cat by author Lynn Manuel, illustrated by Janet Wilson recounts Daffy’s train journey from Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, to Ontario where he was reunited with his beloved mistress. Over the next dozen years, Daffy filled the role of “muse” in the many Anne of Green Gables sequels.
When Daffy passed away, Maud grieved. She buried her grey friend in the garden behind her home.
Eleven of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 22 novels were written at Leaskdale, each one lauded. But despite world-wide acclaim, her life was an unhappy one. Prone to depression, she was also taxed in supporting Ewan, whose battles with mental illness outdid her own.
In 1942, Lucy Maud Montgomery took an overdose of sleeping draughts and passed away. Only recently have her descendants made her struggles public ones.
The Leaskdale Manse, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Ontario home between 1911 and 1925 was named a National Historic Site in 1996. Now a museum, and open to the public, it is administered by the Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario.
The Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario
11850 Regional Road 1, P.O., Box 84
Leaskdale, ON. L0C 1C0